Parsnips are one of those plants you either love or hate. I note that a bit of butter and brown sugar goes a long way towards improving the taste and that they are incomparable when used in beef stews.
When to Plant
Parsnips are an early garden crop and the seed should be sown outdoors (no transplanting) as soon as you can work your soil. At the very best of times, parsnip seed doesn’t germinate well so do follow the tips below.
A few radish seeds along with the seed would be helpful to mark the rows because this vegetable germinates slowly – you’re looking at least three weeks before it will break the ground.
And to make life interesting, if it turns back to really cold/heavy frosts or your ground dries out or crusts over – it will take even longer or the seed will die (and you’ll have to resow.
Where to Plant
A soil that is heavy in organic matter so it doesn’t crust, and is deep so the roots can grow straight and fertile so the plants grow well. You want a soil that is at least good for 30 cm down so the roots will grow straight and true. Similar to carrot needs.
How to Plant
- Sow seed .6 cm deep with one seed per cm. Once they germinate, thin to 5-7 cm between healthy seedlings.
- When you are weeding, hill up the shoulders of the parsnips to prevent a problem called “canker” and never stand too close to the row or you’ll compact the soil and get forked roots.
- Some gardeners lay down wooden planks between these rows to distribute their weight equally. And yes, this plant really is bothered that much by soil compaction.
Care & Maintenance
Overfertilizing will produce a range of problems such as divided roots, so compost is the food of choice rather than chemical fertilizers. A shovel of compost spread equally in a 15 cm band over the row should cover 1-1.5 metres of row.
You may find caterpillars on your plants (swallowtail butterfly larva) and handpicking and moving to other plants is what conservationists would suggest. But do remove if you want a crop.
- Wait until after the first frost to harvest as cold weather and frosts increase the sugar in the root.
- If you protect them from deep freezing by using a heavy mulch over top of them, a parsnip can be left in the ground over winter.
- Harvest first thing in the spring for great flavour.